International Women's Conference of ML Parties

(Following are brief excerpts from a report by Com.Srilata Swaminadhan who along with Com.Ajanta Lohit represented CPI(ML)-AIPWA at the International Women's Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties at Kathmandu.)

Amost unusual conference and, in many ways, a first of its kind was held in Kathmandu from the 1-4 November. It was the first time that a meeting had been called for just the women of Marxist-Leninist (ML) parties. ML women from Norway, Philippines and Nepal Communist parties took the initiative and Nepal's CPN(UML) agreed to host the conference. About 27 ML parties from all over the world were invited to attend the conference but many could not participate. A total of eighteen delegates from eight countries - Argentina, China, Germany, India, Kurdistan, Nepal, Norway and Philippines - participated. From India two delegates each from CPI(ML) Liberation and CPI(ML) New Democracy participated.

Looking back, there were four days of intense discussion, debate and interaction which revealed startling similarities on many levels and interesting new developments and struggles on others. We first shared the present socio-economic and political situation in our various countries with one another especially the problems we faced due to capitalism and imperialism. The problems faced by Third World countries due to structural adjustments, Bretton Woods-inspired 'development', neo-colonialism and the capitulation of our ruling classes to globalisation were almost the same. The condition of the working class and working women in the western countries was different but with very serious problems of their own. While their standard of living appeared to be relatively better, the future is just as bleak as they are faced with recession or stagnant economies which are laying off more and more workers made worse by the flight of industry from the high-cost North to the cheaper South. The worker in the West today is losing even such basic rights as an eight-hour day, pension schemes, maternity benefits, overtime etc.

Women in the Third World countries are doubly oppressed because not only do they face the brunt of capitalist imperialism but are still inhumanely oppressed by centuries-old feudalism, feudal values, culture and attitudes. In discussing feudal oppression again, it was surprising how similar were the experiences of the poor countries like Kurdistan, India, Nepal, Philippines and Argentina.

The Norwegian comrades stressed the importance for women to organise not only as members of the working class but also separately as women. We acknowledged the fact that no matter what the mode of production - feudal, capitalist or socialist - male domination tended to adapt so that it continued to maintain its superior position come what may and it is only by the continuous and most vigilant struggle waged by both progressive men and women that it can be undermined. We delegates also had a frank discussion on how even within communist parties male comrades hang on to their superior positions and resort to subtle methods of female discrimination, often out of habit and quite unconsciously. The most obvious one, of course, is when male comrades proclaim one thing from the public platform and practice something else in their homes with their own wives, daughters, sisters etc. As a German delegate humorously pointed out such communists were laughingly known as the 'In Principle Comrades' as they believed in gender equality only in principle while observing different standards in practice!

Some delegates expressed concern regarding the manner in which both the NGOs and feminists had adopted issues and methods of struggle which had been initiated and evolved by communists and pretended that these were their own. Communists, on the other hand, were unable to propagate their positive achievements. An example was the virtual 'hijacking' of March 8 which was celebrated initially by communists as Women's Day.

The Conference ended with the decision to continue this process of linking up with ML struggles all over the world, to try and meet again and to publish the papers that were presented by the various parties at this conference in a booklet. We briefly discussed the kind of networking and linking we could do, the information we could exchange and how we could spread our contacts to include more and more ML groups.

Sharing Experiences and Views in Kathmandu

Kjersti Ericsson, the leader of the 3-member delegation from the AKP (Workers Communist Party), Norway, to the Kathmandu Conference, was in Delhi recently. She is a former chairperson of AKP and author of the well-known book Comrades, Sisters. Siddartha from Liberation spoke to her about the conference and the situation of women in Norway. Excerpts from the conversation:

Liberation: Could you tell us something about the ML Conference on Women? What was the idea behind the Conference?

Kjersti Ericsson: This was the first conference of its kind, that is, an international women's conference of Marxist-Leninist parties. It started after the Beijing Conference when our committee organised a seminar on 'Women and Socialism'. And in the discussions that followed an idea was floated to organise an international ML conference on women. The objective of the conference was to share the experiences and views of various ML women's groups in various countries. The idea was to have a free discussion and not to come out with any definite conclusion or a statement.

The discussions took place mainly around the following points: 1) The strategy of the women's movements; 2) How these movements form a part of the socialist movement?; 3) The position of women in communist parties; 4) How are they involved in strengthening their position in the parties and raising their agenda? There were other discussions on how to work for liberation of women under socialism and the role of men in the struggles of women.

Liberation: With what impressions you go back from the conference?

Kjersti Ericsson: Well, there were many points on which we agreed and many on which we disagreed. There was generally a wide agreement on the political line of the various women's movements. There might have been differing levels of agreement on say the question of attack on social security etc. but the tendency was the same.
On broad strategic points there was an agreement like on the analysis of capitalism and socialism. There were differences on tactical questions due to differing conditions in different countries. Like on the question of feminism. We in Norway don't keep a strong view against feminism. We have a dialogue with them and try to convince them that women's struggle is a part of the broader struggle for socialism. However, some others felt that feminism was a danger and was concerned only with the issues of the upper class and that a strong ideological struggle was required against feminism.
On the question of quota for women in communist parties there were differing views. The view, especially from the European participants, was that even though there are enough competent women, due to male chauvinism women don't get elected. Some however dismissed this as a petty bourgeois way of dealing with things. Most agreed that this was a tactical question while some said this was a question of principle.

There was a similarity in the experiences of the participants that women's questions are treated as if they are meant only for women and that men don't involve themselves in these as they are not in their own interest. Several parties were trying to let men address women's questions and to see to it that women should also involve in matters other than women issues.

Liberation: Was there a major difference between the Third World participants and the those from Europe?

Kjersti Ericsson: Well, throughout the discussions the difference between the semi-feudal and capitalist societies was stressed and that oppression of women varied widely over different societies but I think that the talks did not go along the lines of an East-West divide. Lots of issues that are important ones in the West like abortion etc. were not discussed.

Liberation: Could you tell us something about the situation of women in Norway?

Kjersti Ericsson: Norwegian women have won some important victories in their struggle. But there is a lot of oppression in our society even though world over the impression is that it provides equal opportunities to both sexes. Oppression of women is more hidden. We had a women prime minister and half the government members are women. Norway has very high female participation in employment but the truth is that the labour market is extremely divided along sexes. Only 6% of the employed women are in higher professions while there is a more or less even distribution of labour i.e. 40%-60% along sexes. This sexually divided labour market is also divided along wage levels. The wage levels in female-dominated branches are lower than the wage levels where men dominate. Violence against women is not uncommon. A very small percentage of rape cases are brought to court where often the victim's legal interrogation is more traumatic than the offence itself. Only 2% of the rapes are assault rapes and the rest committed by persons known to the victims in which case a legal battle becomes even more difficult.